The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: John Lennon Wishes the World “Happy Xmas”
Richard Williams was a fly-on-the-wall Melody Maker journalist when John Lennon made one of the great Christmas records with producer Phil Spector in New York. Nearly 20 years later, he relived the experience in this wonderful piece——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Up on the 17th floor of the St Regis Hotel in New York City, John Lennon is learning to type.
P...I...M...P, he types. I AM A PIMP.
"It's great," he says, "Yoko's teaching me." John is in his bedroom, surrounded by the detritus of creation: guitars, books, notepads, nylon-tipped pens, and... a box full of Elvis Presley singles.
"I asked someone to get all his old singles for me," he says, now down on his hands and knees, opening the box and spilling the bright red RCA labels over the floor.
The next 10 minutes are spent sorting them out. 'My Baby Left Me', 'Hound Dog', 'One Night' and the old Sun classics are in one pile, while crap like 'Bossa Nova Baby' and 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' go on another.
"I'm gonna have a jukebox with just Elvis records on it. Isn't it great?"
In the next room, the living room, is still more tribute to the life and works of a total media freak. There are piles of Yoko's book, Grapefruit, stacks of big film cans, and a hi-fi.
His travelling record collection includes albums by Bo Diddley (three), Chuck Berry (two), Lenny Bruce (six), the Mothers (everything), Paul McCartney (Ram — and it's been played at least once), and Link Wray (with cover inscribed "To John and Yoko — thanks for remembering — Peace, Link Wray").
The story behind the Wray inscription is that John and Yoko were getting out of the lift at 1700 Broadway, which houses Allen Klein's office, when they were confronted by Wray, who was going up to Polydor's offices in the same building.
Wray apparently said, "Hey — John and Yoko." John didn't say anything to him, but turned to Yoko and breathed, "Yoko, that's Link Wray. Without him..." Whether it's true or merely apocryphal, it illustrates one of John's most endearing characteristics: he remembers.
Back in the bedroom, John's talking about the Plastic Ono Band, and his plans for going on the road early in 1972.
"I've got a lot to learn," he sighs. "It's been seven years, you know...but it's important to get the band on the road, to get tight. It's been fun just turning up at odd gigs like Toronto and the Lyceum and the Fillmore, but I'm sick of having to sing 'Blue Suede Shoes' because we haven't rehearsed anything."
To that end, the band will have a nucleus of John (guitar and vocals), Yoko (vocals), Nicky Hopkins (piano), Klaus Voorman (bass), and Jim Keltner (drums). With luck, there'll also be Phil Spector on guitar and vocals, on stage for the first time since the Teddy Bears (which comes into the Believe-It-When-You-See-It department), and a lead guitarist. John wrote to Eric Clapton, offering him the gig, but Eric isn't too well and didn't reply.
"We'll probably get some kid who just walks in and knocks us out. D'you know anything about a guy called Roy Buchanan? He's supposed to be the greatest, but I've never heard of him. I'll have to find out. I don't want to play lead — I'm just an amateur."
But the flexibility will still be there, and other musicians will be able to come and go as they wish. The nucleus will ensure that they don't have to jam all night on old 12-bars. John wants to make the whole thing into a travelling circus, sending Yippie leader Jerry Rubin ahead of the troupe to round up local bands and street theatre groups in whatever cities they're playing. As an illustration of the kind of people they want, John mentioned David Peel and the Lower East Side in New York, and the Pink Fairies in London.